Strangerland is a dark film that takes itself entirely too seriously, focusing on a dysfunctional family with a shady past and shadier secrets. The thin veneer of the Parker family in a small town is slowly peeled back when a series of events force them to confront past ghosts thought to be long buried.
Catherine and Matthew Parker (Nicole Kidman & Joseph Fiennes) are the unhappy gloomy parents of teenagers Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) and promiscuous Lily (Maddison Brown). They can’t seem to keep Lily out of trouble or keep her in line, despite having her little brother Tommy looking after her. Tommy is dragged into her world, which usually means hanging out in a tagged up skate-park and flirting with boys (and maybe more than just flirting). Naturally, her father seems unhappy by Lily’s actions and indiscretions, with Fiennes doing his best to be the perpetually upset father.
One morning Tommy and Lily disappear, who knows where, and Catherine panics with a looming dust storm fast approaching. Matthew doesn’t seem to think much of it and exhibits no haste in trying to find their missing children. Detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving) is assigned to the case once the dust from the storm settles and begins to unravel family secrets that go far beyond the surface…
Unfortunately for us, as Rae unravels the case of the missing teenagers, we – the audience – are left to watch a boring search for teens that is anything but deep. Rae reveals a series of eye rolling secrets, one of them including a sexual affair with an adult (Lily is 15), and that wasn’t the first time for her. Catherine’s behavior is needlessly erratic and seems to come out of left field and I expect that the filmmakers wanted us to accept her actions so as to find a root to Lily’s problem. I understand she’s a bereaved mother who may or may not have lost her children, but her actions at times make no sense. As the story unfolds it becomes almost a point of the film to besmirch Lily’s name and reputation, but for what reasons it’s not entirely clear.
Is she a victim? And if so why is her character disregarded and left to fend for herself. It’s especially difficult when her character disappears and has no means to cinematically defend herself, thus making her a voiceless victim. The film leaves the viewer in the position of the townsfolk who’ve nothing but rumors in their arsenal hushed whispers. The main characters exist in their own dark closeted world leaving no opportunity for relation, understanding, or in the least some kind of clarity. Moreover, the film’s libido, exhibited by Lily’s promiscuity and to some extent her mother, is flagrantly flaunted to add some sort of depth or edginess. Remember that erratic behavior?
Strangerland is heavy-handed, meandering into heavy territory but has no idea what to do with the material. The visuals – at least those afforded by the sandy Australian outback and Aboriginal folklore – are used carelessly and without confidence or expertise. The elements never really click together as the script is so simple and lazy, the individual parts never adding to the whole. There’s no bold statements or grander schemes at play here, or even sophisticated storytelling for that matter. The film is abandoned and left to smolder in the desert heat while it decides how to end the story.